Self-actualization in the corporate hierarchy.
Employee performance (Analysis)
Motivation (Psychology) (Analysis)
Self-actualization (Psychology) (Analysis)
Self-realization (Analysis)
Work environment (Analysis)
Dorer, Hester L.
Mahoney, John M.
Pub Date:
Name: North American Journal of Psychology Publisher: North American Journal of Psychology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 North American Journal of Psychology ISSN: 1527-7143
Date: June-July, 2006 Source Volume: 8 Source Issue: 2
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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It has been argued that the level of individual actualizing contributes to not only the success of the individual, but also to the success of the organization. The present study used a profile analysis to examine the relationship between corporate organizational levels and reported degree of self-actualizing as measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory for 149 managers and employees spanning four corporate hierarchical levels. It was found that the individuals in the different hierarchical levels did exhibit parallel POI profile patterns but did not exhibit different levels of actualizing. Individuals at the higher organizational levels rated their job as more important than did those at lower levels. The level of self-actualizing was correlated to job satisfaction regardless of the hierarchical level, and level of actualizing was correlated to type of work environment. Implications for the psychological and business disciplines are discussed.

The relationship between individual motivation and performance in the corporate work environment has been of interest to psychologists for decades, as evidenced by the writings of Deci and Ryan (2000), Herzberg (1966), Maslow (1971), McClelland (1984), and McGregor (1960). More recently, this relationship has been elaborated by business theorists, such as de Geus (1997, 1997a), Garfield (1986), and Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, and Smith (1994), who view individual motivation and growth as a vital factor for effective business performance. However, some of these theorists (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Garfield, 1986; Herzberg, 1966; Maslow, 1971; McGregor, 1960; Smither, 1984) have expressed concerns that many corporate environments have frustrated or even diminished individual motivation, thereby decreasing overall organizational performance. These theorists have argued that unless organizations created the opportunities for personal development, the potential for organizational growth would be limited or stifled. If employees have been operating at only a fraction of their potential, as some researchers have argued (Garfield, 1992; Ladenberger, 1970; Wilson & Wilson, 1998), businesses could have increased their productivity either by increasing the employees' individual performances, or by more fully utilizing this untapped employee potential. It has been asserted for decades that business leaders could have unleashed this potential by allowing employees to become more fully functioning individuals (McGregor, 1960; Garfield, 1992). These leaders may have achieved higher productivity and performance if they created an organizational environment that supported what Maslow (1971) described as self-actualization.

Maslow (1971) identified people who are self-actualizing as those who engage in work as something they love, so much so that, for them, the traditional dichotomy between the drudgery of work and the experience of joy disappeared. Shostrom (1987) elaborated on Maslow's original descriptions of the self-actualizing person as one who is more fully functioning, actively developing and utilizing all of his or her unique capabilities or potentialities.

Research findings have suggested that the level of individual actualization contributed not only to the success of the individual but also to the success of the organization. A number of studies in industrial settings have investigated these relationships. Ladenberger (1970) found a relationship between individual self-actualizing and the hierarchical level of the individual within an organization. Lessner and Knapp (1974) found what appeared to be a relationship between the self-actualizing characteristics of the entrepreneur and the growth of the firm. Margulies (1969) identified a relationship between an organization's culture and the level of employee self-actualizing.

It is clear that research literature provided some support for the argument that the level of individual self-actualizing is beneficial to both the individual and to the individual's organization. Margulies' (1969) research investigated self-actualization as it related to organizational climate and culture, but not as it related to hierarchical level. What remains unclear is the degree to which this relationship holds at all hierarchical levels within organizations. Ladenberger (1970) examined the levels of self-actualizing of only the top and middle management levels, but recommended the addition of other segments of the working population.

The current study was undertaken to further explore this relationship between individual self-actualizing and level of organizational responsibility by examining levels of self-actualization at four functional (hierarchical) levels, from worker to top management, within hierarchical organizations.

There were two facets to this investigation. One facet addressed the actualizing characteristics of individuals at different functional levels within an organization. Another aspect evaluated the relationship between leader and employee self-actualization, to address the issue of whether functional level or organizational role is related to individual self-actualization.

Three separate hypotheses were proposed:

Hypothesis 1. Based on Margulies' (1969) findings that organizational culture impact employee self-actualizing, it was expected that the profiles or subscale elevation patterns of self-actualization for the four organizational hierarchical levels will be parallel. In other words, the shapes of the calculated profiles, independent of the degree of self-actualizing, will be the same for all organizational levels.

Hypothesis 2. Following Ladenberger's (1970) conclusion that individual self-actualizing is related to hierarchical level within an organization, it was hypothesized that overall levels of personal self-actualization will be greater at higher functional levels in the organization.

Hypothesis 3. Acknowledging the limits on personal expression noted by Garfield (1986), Herzberg (1966), and Maslow (1971), it was anticipated that the level of self-actualization at higher hierarchical levels will limit the degree of self-actualization possible at lower functional levels within organizations. Therefore, the highest degree of self-actualization will appear at the highest organizational level.



Participation was requested from several industrial and manufacturing corporations. The corporations selected were based on the senior researcher's professional contact with employees of these organizations. Company size varied from several hundred to several thousand. Participation was purely voluntary, with overall respondent selection being based on adventitious availability of individuals. Sampling was designed, and subsequent requests for participation made, with the expressed intent of obtaining participants in all of the organizational levels. The participants did not receive extra compensation or monetary remuneration for participation. In accordance with APA ethical principles, there was no penalty for nonparticipation.

A total of 230 instruments were distributed with 149 returned (65%). Since organizational level was captured only as part of the completed instrument, the number of individuals at each organizational level that were requested to participate is not known. The organizational levels (and the final sample sizes for each level) were defined in accordance with these criteria:

Top Management--Presidents, vice presidents, heads of large divisions, and company officers (n=11);

Middle Management--Persons above the first level of supervision but below vice president, company officer, or major department head (n=54);

Front-line Supervision--Professional, or first level of supervision of either professionals, non-exempts, or hourly employees (n=54); and

Worker (n=30)--Personnel in non-management positions who perform clerical or technician-type duties and must be paid overtime.

These levels were chosen to span the entire range of corporate hierarchy while providing meaningful categorizations of the levels.


A Demographic Information Questionnaire (DIQ), requested information about age, gender, birth order, level of education, marital status, level within the organization, years at that organizational level, and estimated years to retirement. It also asked participants to evaluate personal aspects of their lives (family, work/job/career, and social) in terms of importance, satisfaction and performance.

The Personal Orientation Inventory (POI; Shostrom, 1987), based on Maslow's concept of self-actualization, was chosen as the measure of self-actualization. It consists of 150 two-choice comparative value and behavior judgments (Shostrom, 1987) yielding 12 subscales measuring elements of self-actualizing. The twelve subscales, with a sample statement for each (Shostrom, 1987) are listed below. The reliability of the subscales ranges from 0.52 to 0.82 (Shostrom, 1987). Shostrom (1990) asserted that, in general, the test-retest coefficients of the POI are at a level commensurate with other personality inventories and constitute a reasonable presumption of reliability. The POI was developed by Shostrom to differentiate self-actualized from non-self-actualized individuals according to differences in their beliefs and value orientations (Knapp, 1990). Shostrom (1987) has summarized extensive studies demonstrating the validity of the POI. It discriminates between individuals who have been observed in their life behavior to have attained a relatively high level of self-actualizing from those who have not evidenced such development. Results indicated that the POI significantly discriminates between clinically judged self-actualizing and non-self-actualizing groups on 11 of 12 scales. Further validation of the conceptual foundations of the POI has been reported for teachers, students, entrepreneurs, and managers in a large number of research studies summarized by Knapp (1990).

In addition, Maslow (1971) himself, addressed the development, and original publication, of the POI as a measure of self-actualization, labeling it as a reasonably valid measure of his own construct. "... there is today a standardized test of self-actualization. Self-actualization can now be defined quite operationally, as intelligence used to be defined, i.e., self-actualization is what that test tests. It correlates well with external variables of various kinds, and keeps on accumulating additional correlational meanings" (Maslow, 1971, p.28).


The request for participants was made either in face-to-face contacts or small group activities such as staff meetings at the respondents' places of employment. Each participant then received an envelope containing the DIQ, the POI and a POI response sheet. The participants were then requested to complete the instruments at their leisure and return them in the envelope provided.

Participants were requested to think only about their employment situations when responding to the POI questions. To reinforce this salience, the phrase "THINK WORK" appeared on each POI response sheet in large bold type. To guarantee employee security and anonymity, no participant was identifiable by name or by any other device.

There was one particular group of participants that made an unprompted request to view their groups' aggregate results. This group described themselves as having a participative type of management where some of the traditional hierarchical formalities were minimized or non-existent, a structure advocated by both Maslow (1971) and Herzberg (1966) and therefore believed their results might be different from those of other participants. To accommodate this request, participants from this group were asked to indicate their membership in this group on their DIQ. Demographic data from the DIQ and results from the POI were matched using the numeric codes. The POI response sheets were hand-scored. Once scored, an individual profile for each participant was constructed and made available to interested participants.


Summarized self-actualization profiles from POI results were created for each organizational level from the individual profiles. A profile analysis was conducted on the summarized profiles to evaluate for parallelism and overall difference in levels. Data for the four hierarchical categories from the current study were also aggregated into one overall profile to compare with profiles from past research.

Profile analysis is an application of multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) in which several dependent variables are measured simultaneously (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996). The major question addressed by profile analysis is whether group profiles, in this case the four different hierarchical levels, are similar to or different from each other on a set of measures. For evaluation of parallelism, all measures are required to have the same range of possible scores, with the same score value having the same meaning on all the measures. Due to differences in the scales of the POI subscales, Shostrom (1987) recommended that scores be standardized to T scores (normally distributed scores with a mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10). Accordingly, T scores were used for all statistical analyses.

Other analyses were conducted during the current study to examine the relationship of level of actualizing to (a) the importance of the participant's work/job/career; (b) the participant's rating of job satisfaction; and (c) the work environment.

Differences in the rating of the importance of work/job/career by hierarchical level were assessed via ANOVA. A profile analysis was then conducted to compare the POI profile for each of the five levels of response for work/job/career satisfaction. Correlational analysis was used to compare the average POI score (sum of the subscales/12) versus the work/job/career satisfying question. A profile analysis was performed on the aggregated results from the participants in the self-identified participative management group versus an aggregated profile of all other participants.


The means and standard deviations for each hierarchical level and subscale are presented in Table 1. The first hypothesis, that profile patterns would be parallel, was supported statistically. As expected, the profile analysis showed no significant interactions among the profiles for the hierarchical levels, F(3, 145) = 1.10, p = ns, indicating that the profiles or subscale elevation patterns for the four hierarchical levels were essentially parallel. In addition, the shape of the aggregated profile, from the combination of the four hierarchical categories, paralleled the shapes of the profiles observed by Ladenberger (1970). This relationship is presented in Figure 1.


The second hypothesis, that overall levels of personal self-actualization will be greater at higher functional levels in the organization, was not supported by the current study. The profile analysis showed no difference in the level of self-actualization by hierarchical level, F(3,145) = 1.18, p = ns.

The third hypothesis, that the level of self-actualization at higher hierarchical levels would limit the degree of self-actualization possible within the organization, was also not supported. Since there were no significant overall differences among the profile elevations for the four levels, F(3,145) = 1.18, p = ns, the profile elevations for top management were not higher than the elevations at other levels. Thus, the level of self-actualization at lower functional levels did not appear to be limited by the organizations' leaders.

The participants' rating of importance of their work/job/career, differed by hierarchical level, F(3, 145) = 3.58, p < .02, with uniformly higher ratings by those at higher organizational levels. Top management rated work/job/career as significantly more important (M = 4.45) than did both front-line management (M = 3.89), p < .03, and non-exempt (M = 3.90), p < .02. Middle management rated work/job/career more important (M = 4.20) than did front-line management (M = 3.89), p < .02. These results are shown in Table 2.

The profile analysis evaluating overall POI profile elevation for the response given for the participant's satisfaction with their work/job/career did show statistical significance F(3,143) = 2.56, p < .05.

In general, participants who rated their work/job/career as extremely or very satisfying exhibited subscale elevations higher than those that rated their work/job/career as only somewhat or not at all satisfying. The correlation of average POI scores versus the participant's rating of how satisfying they found their work/job/career also showed statistical significance, r(147) = .17, p < .05.

The plot of the aggregated profile for the participative management group (n=22) versus the profile for all others (n=127), indicated that 9 out of the 12 subscales trended toward higher elevations.


By examining levels of self-actualization at four organizational levels, this study further explored the relationship between individual self-actualizing and level of organizational responsibility. These hypothesized relationships between hierarchical organizational level and level of self-actualizing were partially supported by the current study. As Hypothesis 1 stated, profiles for the four hierarchical levels were parallel, exhibiting consistent elevation patterns. However, hierarchical level within an organization did not prove to be related to the level of self-actualizing, as anticipated by Hypothesis 2, nor did the higher organizational levels limit the level of actualizing seen at lower hierarchical levels as predicted by Hypothesis 3. While the smaller number of participants at the top organizational level could contribute to a lack of significant findings, an examination of the average profile scores does not support this proposition.

The current study does not support the conclusions reached by Ladenberger (1970) who reported significant differences in profile elevations between top and middle management levels. Two differences between the current study and past research could account for the difference in findings. First, Ladenberger (1970) differed in her method of participant selection, which may have introduced a significant source of bias in her respondent sample. Her participants were specifically selected on the basis of defined criteria by an international management-consulting firm instead of through a request for volunteers from the general corporate population. In the prior study, top management participants included not only the heads of hierarchical organizations but entrepreneurs as well. Middle management participants were selected only if judged that they would remain at their current level and move no higher. Ladenberger's selection process may have provided a biased sample of participants that were widely disparate from the overall population of employees that exist in hierarchical organizations. A second difference was the method of analysis. The current study used a profile analysis, an advanced statistical technique that evaluated the data for overall profile differences to greatly reduce the possibility of accepting a difference as real. Ladenberger (1970) relied on multiple t-tests to analyze for differences in each subscale, testing for significant differences among a large number of pairs, thus generating a far greater possibility of Type I errors than the far more robust profile analysis procedure.

Despite these differences, the shape of the aggregated profile from the current research parallels the shapes of the profiles observed by Ladenberger (1970). This relationship is presented in Figure 1. The apparent similarity in profile patterns from the current sample and from Ladenberger's findings suggests that corporate profiles may be uniquely distinct from the profiles of noncorporate populations. Profiles presented from research on priests (Greely, 1970; as cited in Knapp, 1990) and teachers (Lafferty, 1969 as cited in Knapp, 1990) exhibit very different profile shapes than the profile shapes shown by current or past research on corporations. Thus, the aggregate scores for the present study, and by extrapolation, the data from Ladenberger (1970), suggest that there may very well be a distinct "corporate profile" and that employees who choose to work in a hierarchical organization will conform to this profile.

The results indicating that individuals at higher organizational levels rated their work/job/career as more important raise an interesting paradox insofar as a group rating work as more important would not necessarily demonstrate a higher level of self-actualizing.

The results provided evidence for a relationship between a satisfying work/job/career and level of self-actualizing. This would indicate that a higher level of self-actualizing may be observed in people who find their work more satisfying, in accordance with Maslow's (1971) theory.

In addition, the finding that the participative management group tended toward higher subscale elevations supports past research by Margulies (1969), in which he identified the environment, including the work environment, as one factor essential for self-actualizing.

Overall, the current study's respondents' level of self-actualizing was not related to hierarchical level within an organization, or to the importance of work to the individual. Thus, although people in a top management position may have more responsibility and authority and may rate work as more important than those at lower hierarchical levels may, top management did not seem to exhibit a higher level of self-actualizing. However, this study did not address whether changes in the level of self-actualizing might occur as a result of a person being promoted and progressing upward through the organizational levels. The current level of self-actualizing appeared to be correlated with how satisfying one finds one's work/job/career and to the type of work environment, regardless of the individual's hierarchical level. These findings are in accordance with the concept underlying the development of the POI, which was to differentiate individuals based on their beliefs and value orientations rather than provide a quantification of growth motivation (Knapp, 1990).

Self-actualization, as one of the major constructs of humanistic psychology (Jones & Crandall, 1991), continues to be a topic requiring further study and clarification (Leclerc, Lefrancois, Dube, Hebert, & Gaulin, 1998; McLeod & Vodanovich, 1991). While the results from the present research do not support self-actualization as a critical measure for organizational performance, the actual relationship between the level of actualizing and organizational productivity or business performance is still undetermined.

Future research could further explore the apparent relationship between job satisfaction and self-actualization. Longitudinal studies could determine the direction of the cause-and-effect relationship between self-actualization and job satisfaction, whether self-actualizing individuals tend to find their jobs more satisfying or if the opposite is true, that job satisfaction increases the level of actualizing.


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Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: John M. Mahoney, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA. E-mail:

Hester L. Dorer and John M. Mahoney

Virginia Commonwealth University
Inner Directed         "I believe it is important to accept others
  Support                as they are."
Time Competence        "I do not have feelings of resentment about
                       "I feel dedicated to my work."
Self-Actualizing       "I feel dedicated to my work."
Existentially          "I am not concerned with self-improvement
                         at all times."
Feeling Reactivity     "I do not feel ashamed of my emotions."
Spontaneity            "There are many times when it is more important
                         to express feelings than to carefully
                         evaluate the situation."
Self-Regard            "I feel certain and secure in my relationships
                         with others."
Self-Acceptance        "I can accept my mistakes."
Nature of              "A person can never change their own essential
  Man--Constructive      nature."
Synergy                "For me, past, present and future is in
                         meaningful continuity."
Acceptance of          "As they are, people sometimes annoy me."
Capacity for           "I can let other people control me."
  Intimate Contact

TABLE 1 Mean and Standard Deviation for POI Subscales by Corporate

Hierarchical Level
                           Top              Middle      Front-Line
                       Management        Management    Supervision
                         (n=11)            (n=54)         (n=54)

                       M        SD       M        SD        M

Time Competence       41.3     12.6     44.3     8.6       43.7
Inner Directed        45.4     7.1      46.4     7.0       45.7
Self-Actualizing      52.7     5.2      51.6     7.2       51.5
Existentiality        40.4     7.5      41.2     8.9       41.8
Feeling Reactivity    47.3     9.1      48.4     8.2       46.5
Spontaneity           51.9     10.3     52.1     9.7       50.5
Self-Regard           48.3     11.2     53.0     8.3       53.2
Self-Acceptance       43.8     8.8      43.8     7.3       43.0
Nature of Man,        47.9     7.1      49.5     8.5       48.9
Synergy               47.5     12.9     48.3     8.9       50.4
Acceptance of         50.1     6.8      47.3     7.8       47.3
Capacity for          46.9     8.0      44.5     9.9       45.6
  Intimate Contact

                     Supervision     Worker
                        (n=54)       (n=30)           Aggregate

                        SD          M       SD        M        SD

Time Competence        10.8        42.7    11.6      43.6     10.3
Inner Directed          7.9        44.0     6.6      45.6      7.3
Self-Actualizing        9.5        48.8     8.1      51.1      8.2
Existentiality          7.8        41.6     8.7      41.4      8.3
Feeling Reactivity      8.3        45.6     8.7      47.1      8.4
Spontaneity             9.1        49.9     8.1      51.1      9.2
Self-Regard             8.9        51.7     7.1      52.5      8.6
Self-Acceptance         8.6        42.8     7.0      43.3      7.8
Nature of Man,          9.2        43.3     8.3      47.9      8.9
Synergy                 8.7        42.5     9.9      47.8      9.7
Acceptance of           8.3        45.1     8.1      47.1      8.0
Capacity for            8.6        44.4     8.2      45.0      8.9
  Intimate Contact

TABLE 2 Rating of Work/Job/Career Importance by Hierarchical Level

Hierarchical             Work/Job/Career
Level                       Important          Significance *

                                M                  p < .05

Top Management                 4.45                  ab
Middle Management              4.20                   c
Front-Line Supervision         3.89                  bc
Worker                         3.90                   a

* Common letters indicate where a significant difference exists.
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